Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gotta Laugh at Yourself! aka Swamp Swimming in the Northeast Kingdom

Last October, I was on a photography trip with my friends from the South Shore Camera Club. My friend Carol was leading us to her favorite places in the Northeast Kingdom. We were on our way to dinner while stopping at a few great locations along the way. All was going quite well until I saw an image that proved challenging to make.

There was an old grey stump with many roots radiating from it. Sprinkled about the stump were some beautiful red maple leaves. The red leaves were all the more striking due to the contrast with the grey stump that they had fallen on. The only problem was that this stump was on a small island in the middle of a swamp. There were some thin logs leading to the stump that conveniently crossed the swamp.

Being cautious, I tested the edge of the swamp and my foot sunk in about 2 inches, but it was pretty firm after that. I figured that if I fell off the logs or they broke, it wouldn’t be too bad. Maybe a couple of inches right????

So, I readied my camera and hefted my pack onto my shoulder. I carefully balanced my way along the logs, carrying my tripod in my left hand to counterbalance the weight of my pack on my right shoulder. As I made it to the middle of the swamp, the log under my left foot snapped…!!!!

Instantly, my left leg was buried up to my hip in the swamp. My right leg was still precariously perched on its log. I had my camera and tripod lifted high in the air. My left foot had not touched bottom. It was still sinking, sinking…

Just before I fell in, my nearest companions had just decided to head back to the cars. I was completely out of sight of everyone and sinking.

I called for help. No one answered. I called again. No answer…

I called as loud as I could. One of my friends heard me. She asked if I needed help. My foot finally touched bottom. I responded by saying, “ It’s not an emergency, but could you ask Al to come down here?”  My friend Al was the biggest guy on the trip. I was hoping that he would be strong enough to help pull me out.

I tossed my tripod to the nearest bank. As I patiently waited, I heard my friends arguing over who would come to join me. “Why does he want Al??? Is he going to give him some secret photo tips?? Why Al and not us?” This went on for another minute before Al finally came to help me. Just before he arrived, I heard another friend, Wayne, say “I’m going too!”

The two men came around the corner and just stared at me. It was one of those jaw dropping stares. As the stares lasted, drool started to form at the corners of their mouths. Eventually Wayne snapped out of it and said “Uh…Greg…What are you doing?”

I calmly explained my situation and informed my friends of my plan to save my camera. It was a desperate plan. I told Al that intended to throw my D7000 to him and I wanted him to catch it. Al’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Are you sure?” he asked incredulously!

“Unless you have a better idea, I intend to toss it to you.” It was only a fifteen foot throw. But then again, I played soccer, because I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball, basketball, football, or any thrown object. Of course I had never tried to throw a camera!

At this point, I realized that I could only use the strength of my left arm, because my right arm was entangled in my back pack. Being a righty, this was even less reassuring…

I slowly started moving my hand and camera back in forth in a throwing motion to generate enough power for the throw. Of course I didn’t want to overthrow my target either.

“On three,” I shouted to Al. “One, Two, Three!!” As I tossed the camera, I worried that I would overthrow Al, so I lightened up on the throw. The camera sailed through the air. As if in slow motion, I saw every tumble, twist and turn, as my baby hurtled through the air. I watched as Al’s eyes opened wide. He bent down and leaned forward, but not far or fast enough as the camera landed two feet short of him.

Fortunately, the camera landed in a soft tuft of swamp grass. It could have been far worse. Al grabbed my camera and stepped out of the way as I asked Wayne to catch my backpack. With a mighty two handed heave I threw my twenty pound gear bag as hard as I could. It sailed straight towards Wayne. Like a pro, Wayne sure handedly grabbed the rest of my precious camera gear. Phew!!

With my hands free, I was able to pull myself out of the swamp. It took some effort, but my leg finally came free. Fortunately, my boot stayed on my foot! I was able to scamper back across the logs and breathed a sigh of relief.

I took a brief look at my camera. It looked OK, but I didn’t want to touch it, because my hands were covered in mud.

At that point, I just wanted to change my clothes. My left leg was completely covered in mud. There was no way I would be able to ride in anybody’s car back to the house to get changed. I would have to strip my pants off and ride in my underwear. This was going to be awkward. I felt terrible, because I was going to spoil dinner. We had a reservation and this stunt of mine was going to mess those plans up.

As I walked back to the car, I decided to become the butt of everyone’s jokes. What else could I do?

Carol, the leader of this expedition and my ride, was a quarter mile up the road photographing reflections of foliage on a lake. I felt bad interrupting her photo session. Carol loves photography. She loves the Northeast Kingdom and she loves foliage most of all. I felt like a heel for ruining her trip.

I decided to try to be funny.   As I got within shouting distance, I called out “Carol…..I love you!!” I assumed that she could see my muddy pants at this point. She on the other hand thought I was thanking her for bringing us to such a great location (which it was). She was a little confused by my public declaration. She called back with a strange look on her face “Uhh … OK!”

I called again “Carol, I reaallly love yooouu!!” Then, even more confused, she called “I love you too???”

At that point I was sure that she had seen my mud covered pants. She hadn’t. She walked over and met me at her car. She was now able to clearly see me. I think she went into shock.

I tried to apologize and come up with a plan for her to still be able to lead the trip while I returned to the house. Al offered to drive me back to the house. Carol was just worried about getting me to dinner. I pointed out that there was no restaurant anywhere that would seat me. At this point, I think full comprehension finally dawned on Carol. The shock was starting to wear off.

Carol insisted that she would drive me back and asked the rest of the group to find their way to the restaurant as best as they could.

Of course at this point, there were a handful of photographers eager to take my picture. I asked them to give me a moment’s privacy as I went behind Carol’s car and stripped out of my pants. I wrapped my jacket around my waist and proclaimed it a kilt!

By then, the entire group was aware of my predicament. Many were offering paper towels to clean the mud off my pants and boots. Al came up with two plastic bags to stuff my clothes in. The rest of the group got their cameras and insults ready.

Soon I was posing for twenty photographers in my make shift kilt. I made the best of it and rolled with the punches. After a few minutes of feeling like a star with a wardrobe malfunction surrounded by paparazzi, I was on my way with Carol and our friend Betty to get changed. My make shift kilt served its purpose. In no time, I was changed and on my way to dinner. Of course Carol had to point out every mud hole in the Northeast Kingdom to ask if I wanted to go for a swim. More of these comments surfaced over dinner. Fortunately they were all good natured jibes. The entire group was very gracious despite the fact that I put a huge crimp in everyone’s plans. I couldn’t have asked for a group of more understanding people.

I’d like to thank Carol for a wonderful trip and for being a gracious host and good friend. I’d also like to thank her for allowing me to post her photo on my blog. You can read her version of this tale by visiting her blog at

I’d like to thank my friend Al who came on my trip to Acadia a week later. I asked him to live by the motto of “What happens in the Northeast Kingdom stays in the Northeast Kingdom.” He was very good at keeping quiet. Thank you to my sure handed friend Wayne for saving the rest of my equipment!

I am a huge proponent of taking calculated risks. Had those logs been over open water or from one cliff to another with a sheer drop in between, I never would have tried it. I reasoned that the worst that could happen was that my boots would get a little muddy. I had no idea that the swamp would be over three feet deep. Watch out for those bogs in the NEK!!

In the end, I would like to tell you that I would be more careful next time, but I am not so sure that I wouldn’t still try to push my limits…within reason

While I never made any images of the red maple leaves on the grey stump, you can see some of my favorite images from this trip here:  and here:


  1. I enjoyed reading your take on the mud adventure Greg. Just so you know.....we are getting rain here on Monday which will cause some great big mud puddles with the 24 inches of snow we have here on the ground in SE MA.
    Just case you feel the urge for a repeat. :-)
    You know you will never hear the end of this, right?
    Thanks for the link to my blog by the way and I look forward to our next photography adventure. Do me a favor though. Bring a change of clothes. HA!

  2. Oh this was too funny Gregg as i can picture you with your expressions!
    Just think when you older and look back that will be a fun fill emory of your trip with friends....

  3. We are still laughing about it. I am just glad that everything ended up OK!


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